GENEVA -- Mazda Motor Corp. said on Tuesday it expected European sales growth to slow from record highs in 2005 but anticipated a solid performance this year as new products help it combat stiff competition.
The company was on track to meet full-year fiscal sales forecasts and steel shortages were not expected to impact earnings this year, Dan Morris, chief executive of Mazda Europe, also told Reuters on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show.
"In the last year we increased 20 percent ... we will still have growth but maybe not at that high level because we are coming off a higher base," said Morris.
Mazda Europe's sales rose 20 percent to 275,000 in 2004.
Mazda is one of the fastest-growing brands in a tough European market and is pinning further success on the launch of a new range of its top-selling sports car MX-5, as well as the ongoing success of its Mazda3 sports compact launched in 2003.
Morris said he hoped Mazda's market share would stabilize at around 2 percent "later in the decade", a figure expected to translate into annual sales of up to 400,000.
Sales in Italy, the UK and Spain were strong during the year although Germany eased off previous strong growth. Morris said consumer confidence in Germany, with 10 percent unemployment, poses a major challenge in 2005.
The group is also eyeing new markets in eastern Europe and Morris tipped continuing growth in Russia where sales have soared.
Morris said development is the key to Mazda's success and said the company would introduce 16 new products between 2004 and 2006.
"The fear was this (MX-5) was our (final) shot but I have peaked under the circus tent and seen what is coming and I'm very confident," Morris told Reuters, refusing to give further detail.
He said steel shortages remained a challenge but was manageable in the year ahead.